Building Skyscrapers by Dara Thomas Higgins

The light unravels outside, spills in the windows, across the floor of the hotel bar. The carpet has become golden with day. What’s it trying to prove? We order another round. I’ve switched to whiskey. It’s more formal. You’re telling me about yourself, like an American would.

-In the eighties, you say, I built skyscrapers in Manhattan.

In the eighties I needed to know that, for the kids on the street who pointed and laughed and said you have no da, you have no da, the kids whose fathers came home and painted purple the eyes of their mothers, the bitter tang of chips and booze on the their tongues, the fucking indifference of the world in their ribcage somewhere. Twanging away, rattling around, bouncing off those bones, playing them like the keys of a xylophone. This dismemberment of maleness. But if I’d known, I could say, me Da’s in New York and he’s building skyscrapers. Fucking skyscrapers. And what’s your da building? A car park, maybe. A shopping centre near Cabra. Maybe his week revolves around the dole office, the promise of a few hours queuing in the blue air for a handful of notes and a trip to the bookies on the way home. My Da, single-handedly building skyscrapers. So high and bright, the sunlight twinkling off the glass, the sky fucked by them, these huge things. Single handed. My Da.

-Well, that’s interesting, I said. And I was interested, maybe somewhat impressed. Pictures of workers on a lunch break, perched on a crossbeam, the vista of New York below them popped into my head. I pictured you there, lunch pail beside you, among the other Irish and Polish and Italian lads. Putting down a real legacy, something that will last and be a source of wonderment for years to come. Something even as it’s being demolished will be a spectacle.

-After that, I went residential. Huge gated communities in Massachusetts.

Somehow there was more money to be made in these prosaic sprawls than in five hundred feet tall skyfuckers. Less magic, more money. Isn’t that always the way? And suddenly I’m disappointed, as if you’ve let me down somehow. As if this is your crime, your talk of millions.

The Irish would never, not even from your generation, bandy digits about with such insouciance. I never have money. I don’t know what it’s like. I know, for example, I couldn’t afford these drinks you’re paying for, the largesse of your tab. Or those chinos that hang elegantly off your slim hips. Or the Ralph Lauren shirt. The heavy gold watch. I couldn’t afford it, I wouldn’t want it.

Maybe things are different for you in America. Here old peoples’ maturity is earned in boredom and submission, and worn across the ordinance of their faces. The American male’s greatest misfortune has been an abundance of choice, the niggling doubt you may have bought the wrong thing, perhaps imparted too much of yourself in that television. Oh, you went with the Sony? Yes, I went with the Sony, what’s wrong with the Sony? There’s nothing wrong, per se. I just went with the Samsung. The fear, the fear.

-What about you, you ask. What about me. I’m ordinary, in the way everything is ordinary. It’s a struggle. It’s a succession of minor failures and harsh lessons, this life. It’s a grind. I read French philosophers and complain to walls life is meaningless. That’s me.

-I read a lot. I listen to music.

-What kind?

You see, that’s disappointing. Small. There’s no genre to me. I’ll listen to anything. I don’t mind, I’m just looking to be moved, and it’s the notes that do it. But seeing as you’re asking, I’m an Arcadia man, before the Power Station. Beatles before Stones. While we’re on it, Paul before John. Beethoven over Mozart. Mozart’s just pop music. Right?

You nod. You tell me how you used to hang on Baggot Street as a youngster, still in school. How you’d sneak in to O’Donaghues and sit there during the epic, legendary sing songs with all the greats. Luke Kelly and Anne Briggs and the like. I picture the yellow walls, the smoke an indoor nimbus and the porter on the tables and the mouths open, the decayed teeth and the singing and the singing, and I wish I’d been there, part of something. There’s nothing here nowadays. No scenes.

-Have you ever mentioned me to your other kids?

-No, I have not. I’ve meant to you know, you say, and rest your head on a folded hand for a second, with some intense middle-distance staring that tells me how difficult it is for you. –When I left here. A pause. –I really felt as if I couldn’t come back. It took years. Then my mother became ill. I came back for the funeral.

Great, another family member I didn’t even know I had bites the dust. Corpses are piling up. I’m beginning to think it’s me.

-And then I saw the country was changing. It wasn’t the same grey, hopeless place I left.

You left me to no hope?

-Have you brought them over? Your other children.

-Sure. Ellen met her husband over here, if you can believe that.

Hold on, my sister, prowling for men in my hometown. Perhaps…

-I will tell them. When we’re all together.

-I’d like to, I start. And then I pause and try the intense inward looking, as you have done. But you misread it or disregard it and plough on, telling me how it’s hard to get them all together with the various ex-wives involved, some less accommodating than others.

-Lana never had any more children? You ask. Lana, my mother. Her death left me orphaned on this continent. Precipitated our meeting. I shake my head. -I was sorry to hear…

-It’s fine. She was sick for a while, so it was a blessing.

I’ve said those words to Lana’s friends repeatedly over the last few months. Save your sorrow. Her life was a painful, the end was a release. But whose suffering ended that day? Mine or hers?

You mumble something about how she was a good woman, and you’re sure she made a good mother, but it’s numbing to me. You stretch, the bad leg, the one with veins that had to be removed, wince almost imperceptibly. You flick an eye towards your watch, and pick up your glass, the ice melted. You swirl it around and neck the remains with a calm finality. You’re telling me this meeting is over, as you must have done hundreds of times before in board rooms across the East Coast, discussing the millions and billions required to shelter humans and their belongings.

-I’m glad we did this, you say, and manage to make it sound almost like you mean it. Here in your hotel, your itinerary didn’t even need to change. To get from the plush, combed velour of the couch here in the bar to your suite is a mere matter of a few steps to the gilded elevator, even after your operation.

-I’ve never been here before, I say uselessly. –It really is as nice as they say, I add, for extra uselessness.

-I stay here every time I’m back.

All those times, and where was I?

A regal twist of your wrist and the waiter’s at your shoulder. You place your tumbler on his tray.

You stand and I stand and we’re separated now by only a couple of feet of foot-deadening pile. We admire each other for a moment. I’m taller than you, broader, but you still have your hair and mine is a chimera, wisps plastered across an all too exposed pate. Grandfather, mother’s side, was a chromedome. Not your fault. Your shoes are polished, my Adidas leak. You’re lithe, an animal quality, as if always poised, even with the stick to aid your recovery. We shake hands. I give it everything I have, but yours is rock solid.–It really was good to see you.

-And, uh. You. And I wonder, should I say anything else. What else does one say? –Maybe I’ll drop into you when I’m in America.

-Sure, you say, with a wide, over-bright smile and a twinkle that says: as if that will happen, and I wonder, briefly, if the bank would be quite so accommodating with their pre-approvals now, post-crash, and sure, isn’t it worth a go. Get out a few grand, head to America, meet the family. Try again. Try life again. Fail life again. Fail it better, American style.

-If you’re ever in New Hampshire, you start. But then you stop, and look out the window at the park across the road, the suffusion of golden evening light. Summer in Dublin, its last breaths. The autumn closing in on us, every syrupy sunset coming earlier and earlier. There’s a look that travels across the smooth, soft sheen of your face, as if something simple has occurred to you. Something so simple and so true, something that’s been there for ever and you haven’t noticed. You’re still holding my hand, and suddenly you grasp me. I grasp back, I don’t know what else to do, and when you fall, you pull me down too. I disentangle myself. You’re convulsing, mouth opening and closing, no sounds in there. A waiter reacts quickly. He drops to his knees and listens to your breathing and thumps your chest. I too am on my knees, leaning over.

-I need some space, says the waiter. –Please.

-He’s my dad, I say. The words I have never uttered previously. They sound strange, too weighty, as if unearned by me. The waiter pummels your chest.

-Please.

Someone else from the hotel runs over. A man returning from the gym who’s a veterinarian offers his help. An ambulance is on its way. I watched your face turn blue, a strange hue of polished cobalt. The bustle of hotel staff removes me from your side, and I have to stand, stumbling backwards, falling into a chair as I watch. Within ten minutes the paramedics are there, which is impressive. I imagine they had a special hotline, places like this, with their exclusive clientele of the wealthy and the privileged. There’s overdosing junkies on Thomas Street being ignored right now. And rightly so. Here is a son of Erin, a captain of industry, who did more than the gombeens he left behind here on this sod. He left, he conquered. He accumulated a few wives, as they do over there, and seven children, upon whom he dotes, and a business portfolio, of which he’s equally proud. He won. He deserves his life.

The paramedics are working furiously. Some other patrons are down the back of the bar, looking on idly. The barman hasn’t stopped pouring drinks. I go to him, and ask for another whiskey. He pours silently, freely, not using the little pewter measure. He nods at me, and I back. I upend the tumbler and suck it all down at once. –Stick it on the tab, I say.

There’s nothing for me to do here. I’m no undertaker. I leave. They don’t notice me, any of them. The paramedics are wheeling in a gurney, less enthusiastically now. Outside is dark. Hours must have passed. I take your gold Rolex from my pocket and check the time. I think of the funeral. I wonder will it be here or in America. I’d like to go to America. Start again. Start life again. Maybe get it right this time.


Dara Thomas Higgins is a writer and musician based in Dublin. He currently writes screenplays for State Broadcaster RTE and plays bass guitar for Ireland’s premier psycherock group The Jimmy Cake, among others. @Diplah

Image Credit:  Rohit Tandon

 

The Piano by Sorcha Fogarty

My husband is deaf. Once, he asked me if snow made a sound when it fell, and I lied. We have been married 11 years today, and I am leaving him.

He is in the bakery on the corner where it is warm and they know him well. He will return within the hour to our apartment with a box full of little cakes which he ordered especially for this day. He will walk through the door and toss his keys into the little ceramic bowl on the hall table. I am the only one who ever hears the sound of the keys as they fall into the bowl. He will place the cakes on the second shelf of the fridge and seek me out, but I will be gone.

There is a violent rip in the couch. A giant piece of leather hangs off the armrest like a tongue. It has ruined the couch, but we never bothered to get it repaired.  Just like us. One violent rip has divided us forever. We love each each other differently now; we just remind each other of what is missing. Each time we look at each other, an inexorable ache rises up from deep inside both of us. It is tangible. It pollutes the air between and around us. We have almost completely stopped looking at each other. Instead, we look through each other, or behind each other, or around each other. The ashtray is empty and now only decorative in function, and it tempts me to smoke again. My lungs are hollow and empty and long for the weighty, constricted feeling of being a smoker; just to feel something, anything. Just to feel a feeling that isn’t interminable, unresolved sorrow.

He plays the piano every day, and I am taking it with me. It was made in 1783 in Prague. It sits quietly in the corner now, poised for exile. We’ve moved home three times in eleven years, and each time, the piano goes out of tune when it enters a new environment, as if it were afraid of change. My husband once told me that in the darkness of its body, deep in its belly, there is a piece of him which is living secretly, breathing, pulsating, fed by scherzo and allegro. I am taking the piano for exactly this reason. Inside, quiet as dust, a part of my husband anticipates resurrection, while I have given up completely. I do not want him to have the benefit of resurrection when I know I will never experience such merciful relief.

He is watching the fat baker squeeze the icing in the shape of tiny red hearts onto the little cakes that we are supposed to share with our friends tonight, in celebration of our anniversary. He once told me that he loved me because I was the only thing he could hear. He can feel the vibrations of the piano strings through the soundboard, but I am inside him, he said. I am a song soaked into each bone of his secret body where the world has never been able to wander.

The fat baker is packaging the cakes. He places them delicately into a pink box, tying it up in white ribbon with a flourish. I want to leave before my husband returns, otherwise I will be swayed by the sadness in his eyes and have to wait yet another year. I am running out of years. I have to be on my way to the airport; the piano movers should have been here half an hour ago. I do not want my husband to find them struggling on the stairs with a part of his soul. I want no scenes.

I have already burned all the photographs; they made a crackling sound and set off the smoke detector, which I promptly smashed. He won’t need it because he is deaf and it gives off only a minute vibration, too mild for him to notice. I have written down all the reasons why I am leaving, and I am overcome with a sad longing for the world, to be a part of it again, because I have not spoken to anyone for weeks. I must go now, I can’t wait for any more tomorrows. My feet barely touch the ground as I take a final sweeping look around the apartment. My heart is in my mouth. I can feel it throbbing and taste the pulse.

For some unknown and annoying reason, the moment we met fills my mind. He was giving a recital. I was with friends, eager to see and hear this deaf pianist, like a sort of modern-day Beethoven. I felt like a voyeur, not really caring about the music, but fascinated by the idea of this man. He played several pieces, but the only one I recognised was Chopin’s Nocturne op.9 No.2, with its beautiful, discordant notes. And I was mesmerized by the way he played. It was as if he was listening to every single note, his head bent towards the keys, his eyes half-closed. His fingers dancing like little ballerinas, so delicate and long and elegant. After the show, I went up and introduced myself. I couldn’t resist. I wanted to hear if he could speak at all. It was crass and nosy of me, but he could speak; with palpable strain and effort, he forced out a melody of muffled sounds in an awkward staccato rhythm. I complimented him on his Chopin rendition, and he told me it was his favourite, that he played it every single day. He invited me for a glass of wine. We went to a wine bar, one of those little places that plays quiet but lively jazz in the background, dimly lit by candles on each table. It was there that he asked me the question whether or not snow made a sound when it fell. He wrote it on a napkin, and underneath his question, I wrote, “Yes. It sounds like angels falling”. But of course, he would never hear an angel fall. It was an in impossible answer to an impossible question. But he took my hand immediately, and tears filled his eyes. And he said “Thank you”, with his stunted, strangled voice. A trickle of red wine stained the napkin as we continued our evening. I kept that napkin for years. But today, I burned it with the photographs.

Albert Camus suggested that we would not love if there was no lack within us, but we are offended by a similar lack in the other. Expecting to find the answer, we only find the duplicate of our own problem. And, as a result, we become disgusted, disappointed, and try to flee from the other in an attempt to flee from ourselves also. Inside my husband, outside him, all around him, is the duplicate of my problem. I can never be free, I know that, and I know I can never flee from myself; but I can at least flee from his hopefulness, from his will to force life to go on, which only serves to exacerbate my own emptiness.

The piano movers arrive. They are brusque and professional and ready to get on with the job. They manoeuvre the antique piano down the winding staircase of our apartment building with cautious, studied movements. As they make their descent, the door to an apartment on the second floor opens, and a frail Russian woman called Ida who has lived in the building for over thirty years puts her hand on my arm and looks concerned.  She sees my eyes, she sees the panic and the longing. She wants to know has there been any news. She always wants to know has there been any news. There is never, and there will never be, any news.  I am also escaping from her. I am escaping from the constant questions, the pitying looks, the awkward silences, the stilted conversations on the stairs or outside her apartment door. I tell her, babbling, making no sense at all, that my husband is in the bakery buying little cakes iced with tin red hearts, and I have to be in the taxi on my way to the airport before he returns. I tell her it is our eleven year anniversary and I am leaving him. This makes her gasp; her eyes water, and she lets me go, offering some support or strength or affirmation with a slight squeeze to my shoulder.

I shut the front door of the building behind me. I have no bags, except for a small handbag which contains my passport, my aeroplane ticket, some money, and the address of my new home written on a scrap of paper. I don’t want to take anything with me. Just the piano.

He was playing it the moment the phone rang, eight years ago. A little girl had been found, lying on the wrong side of the footpath, face-down on the road, blood seeping through her little blue coat. Our phone number was in her bag, in her little notebook with the birds and the rainbows on the cover. She had wandered from school. Whoever hit her, whoever killed her, just drove off and left her there. The driver was never found. Her ponytail was sticky with dirt and blood. A tiny bird, broken and forgotten. She was there one minute, perfect and small and dressed so smartly in her little blue coat, and gone the next. He was playing the Chopin Nocturne when I hung up the phone and went to find him. With shaking hands I spoke to him, my fingers trembling as I made the shapes of the letters because I could not speak. My mouth would not work, my tongue dry and lifeless in my mouth.  He never played Chopin again.

I can see his face now, as he enters the apartment, and sees the space where the piano once stood. I can imagine the emptiness that will follow him around. I can imagine him sitting him at the edge of our bed, her photo, the only photo I didn’t burn, in his hands, as he too remembers the night that he asked me if snow made a sound when it fell. He makes his way to where the piano used to be, and, sitting on the stool which I left behind, he holds his hands out in front of him, poised over the no-longer-there keyboard. Closing his eyes, he mimes Chopin’s Nocturne op. 9 No. 2.

The pink box of little cakes iced with tiny red hearts sits forgotten on the bed, her photograph beside it.


Originally from Omagh, Co. Tyrone and presently living in Cork City, Sorcha Fogarty completed a PhD on “The Affirmative Nature of Impossibility in Jacques Derrida’s Work of Mourning” in 2010, and spent several years teaching Undergraduate English in University College Cork. She has previously had academic articles, based on Jacques Derrida, published on The Literary Encyclopedia, an online journal. She has spent the past six years teaching Creative Writing in various libraries around Cork City, and presently works as an Assistant Librarian, while continuing to teach Creative Writing. 

Image Credit:  NeONBRAND

A Diet of Feathers by Paul Whyte

If a bar is not kept at all times moist to the touch it will grow feral, dangerous. 
       Think of it as a type of sessile organism, a compact colony surviving only on the odd sobs of stout and the dead skin of patrons.
     This particular bar has pulled the fibres from the knit of my jumper and planted them upright in the mahogany so that they sway like sea creatures. Poor thing must have been starving.
     It’s St Stephen’s day morning and I’m consulting the paper. First meet is 11. 
     I use an inch-long pencil to circle names. My first pick is a tip from the radio, 6/1.
 
     Neil returns from the bathroom preening with dull satisfaction. His paper wagging beneath his arm like the tail of one of those strange fish that sticks to the bellies and backs of sharks.
   I can see his picks, circled with red pen so that his choices cannot not be easily erased or forgotten.
   He pays for his drink and while he does I catch the contents of his wallet – a loyalty card for the only barber in town and a balance of cash for the day, all big notes. His bank cards are at home. He knows better.
 
   We leave and walk to the bookmakers, two doors down, last year it was five.
   Neil is shorter than I am and going bald in the most unfortunate of ways, thinning in strips instead of patches. This doesn’t seem to bother him. He lets it grow until it’s unbearably mossy.
He has pale pocked skin and a sturdy crest of a nose. Sometimes when you call to the house for him, his brother will answer and tell you that Neil is out the back breaking blocks with it.
   Right now he has the look about him of someone confident, canny.
 
 
   The bookies is packed and has the visual palette of a stuffed ashtray. It smells of insoles and devastated carpet. 
   The only female here is the cashier, Joanna. She has the kind of calm in her eyes that you see in nurses and first responders. 
   Once on the carpet Neil doesn’t respond to verbal signals. He will not discuss picks or winnings. Men are invisible in this place.
 
   At 2 o clock I tell him that I’m hungry. He seems agreeable. This must mean he’s up.
   We go back to the pub and eat vegetable soup, crumble in soda bread that’s thick as scones. We have a carvery lunch and a pint of free cordial each. There is discussion of Ibiza.
   He tells me that he’s going to get a job in the new year, that he’d like to come with us on the holiday. Says though, that it’s hard with the Mother the way she is. I sympathize, but secretly I know that if it wasn’t this it would be something else. Neil has the sort of mind that subconsciously seeks labyrinths. It’s not broken, it just does what it does with a ruthlessly efficiency.
   He’s never been out of the country. He’s never eaten pasta or drank barista coffee. To my knowledge he has only ever been to the cinema that one time with school. He likes football and playing poker online, thinks he’s better at both than he is.
   We step outside for a smoke. I rub my belly and tell him what the Father told us over Christmas dinner.
   He told us that when he was thirteen years old his Dad organized a job for him in a plant nursery somewhere between Aherlow and Lisvernane. They supplied food and accommodation for the summer and a couple of quid would go back home.
   The meals weren’t much, spuds and bacon, mustard from a tube if they had it. Breakfast was porridge and tea without milk or sugar.
   He told us that he would be so hungry that by lunchtime he would start to eat chips of wood from the handle of his shovel and in bed at night he would sometimes chew the feathers from inside his pillow.
  The story has Neil shaking his head, ”Different times.” he says.
 
   Back in the ashtray the smell has evolved to include the bizarre body odours of farmers fresh from the field. 
It’s not wholly unpleasant. It has a spicy quality to it, something cheap splashed against a hairy throat on the way into town.
   Later myself and Neil huddle in the doorway as a heavy shower leathers the blanked out windows. Threads of rainwater drop from a clogged-up gutter and clap against the pavement. Even the smoke we’re blowing wants nothing to do with the weather, it circles our faces, seeks shelter in our pores.
   Neil is about as happy as Neil gets. Tells me he’ll put the deposit down on Ibiza tomorrow, maybe he’ll even get a deal in the sales.
   When the bookies close we make our ways back to the pub. Neil keeps walking. 
 
   I pat his back dutifully, offer to buy him a drink, curried chips if he’s hungry. He doesn’t answer me, just carries on down the street, trans-illuminated by a connect-the-dot forest of birches wrapped in fairy lights.
 
Once inside, I go to the bar, run my hand across its skin. It feels dewy, fed. I knock it once to see if it answers, thumb the vinyl-like groves in the wood. A voice comes; I order a stout. 
 
 I think of Neil, walking alone in the country dark. I bet he’s starving. 

Paul Whyte is an emerging Irish writer. Originally from Tipperary, he currently lives in Dublin with his wife and two children, where he is working on his first short story collection – Brazen Head. Paul has been writing for about 10 years. He works mostly on speculative literary fiction.

Image Source:  Tommy

A Party by Lucy Montague-Moffatt

Driving at night beside you you ask me to drive with your eyes over the people at the party I say yes back with my eyes because that’s what love is driving you home when you are tired from working all week and want to have another whiskey Fiona has just poured me a third glass of wine and has been telling me all about the particular grape that this wine is made from she has said fabulous about ten times I don’t know if she knows any other descriptive words I pour my glass down the sink when she isn’t looking and the sink gurgles fabulous back to me and Fiona shrieks that I have drank that very fast I flush and shrug and go to the bathroom and use my earring to remove a piece of spinach from my teeth I wish you had also told me across the room with your eyes about the piece of spinach I don’t know how long it has been there or if everyone has been talking about it behind my back I saw a group of Fiona’s archaeologist friends laughing loudly beside a bookshelf howling they must have been laughing at the spinach because what else do archeologists have to laugh about you hate museums and whisper crap crap crap under your breath as we walk around the glass cases of pottery and although I am fascinated I giggle because that’s what you do to me and love is coming to a museum with me even when you prefer to read an Ian Rankin under a beach umbrella you talk to a woman for a long time I watch across the room but can’t get away from Fiona’s conversation because she is right in the middle of a story about buying brie and there’s never a point where it would be polite to step away as she is doing hand gestures and accents and it is taking a lot of effort so I watch the woman from a distance as she touches your shoulder she pours you another whiskey your fourth and you throw your head back in joy and adulation of this moment when an attractive woman is touching you and feeding you alcohol and telling you things that make your eyes wrinkle at the sides with pure happiness when the brie story is over I don’t go over and disturb you I let you keep talking into the night because that’s what love is I watch your eyes wrinkle from how wide your smile is driving at night beside you as you doze and no matter what happens I can bring you anywhere and you would come because that’s what love is


Lucy Montague-Moffatt is a writer from Dublin currently based in Manchester. Her radio drama ‘In His Kiss’ aired on BBC Radio 4 in July. She is currently the Writer-In-Residence for The Gaiety School of Acting, writing their grad play which will be in Smock Alley Theatre in 2018. She graduated with a Masters in Scriptwriting from the University of Salford last year. Her website is lucymm.co.uk 

Image Source:  Adam Jaime

Six Nights by Aileen Ferris

When Colin came into view descending the stairs of the wine cellar, I knew I wasn’t attracted to him.  He was skinny, about my height, and clean-shaven.  He had obviously made an effort, and that put me right off.  It seems counterintuitive not to want someone to make an effort for me, but it contributes to that contrived feeling of being On A Date.  The effort is for themselves, really. I’m more comfortable with people in their natural state, without observance of rules that no one knows who wrote.

He spotted me sitting at the table and waved.  My selfies must at least look recognisably like me.  I took a long gulp from the glass of Malbec in front of me (not intended to be gulped) and stood up to greet him.  A quick, superficial kiss on the cheek – he really was only about an inch taller than me.  How to get through the next hour?  More wine, of course.  While listening politely to stories of his advertising job at a large multinational (you know the one), I guzzled the stuff (not intended to be guzzled).  We (mostly I) went through a bottle quickly and as soon as enough time had passed to excuse myself I did, telling him that this was nice and wishing him safe home.

I checked my phone while walking in the opposite direction.  My friends were in Pantibar dancing, so I joined them and drank some more.  That was where I met Lacey.  She wore baggy jeans and a beanie hat, her soft flesh hanging out self-confidently from her yellow crop top.  She was twenty two, a student from Oregon on a semester abroad, and she knew what she wanted.  We talked, laughed and danced until closing time, when I said I should go home.  She was upfront.  “Can I come?”  Hell yes.  Yes, you can.  Once in my bedroom, she cut through the smalltalk.  “Do you wanna fuck?”  Hell yes.  Yes again.

Lacey wasn’t trying.  She didn’t care what I thought of her.  She had hair on her legs.  She was comfortable in herself, and it was sexy as hell.  She told me about the guys she fucked now and again when she felt like it.  She usually went home right after, but she stayed with me till morning, when we ate hummus and I drove her home.  She was perfectly content.

*

The left are the good guys, we agreed as we walked, feeling reassured and slightly superior to count ourselves among that group.  The only problem is that people on the left are too principled to compromise and this keeps us fractured.  The right is happy to compromise, we supposed, because it has no real principles.  That’s what keeps it in power, and how it perpetuates the oppression of women, gays, trans people, bisexuals, immigrants, Muslims, non-whites, the working class, the disabled, the mentally ill, the chronically ill, artists, the polyamorous, the unemployed and any other group it can get its hands on.  “The right is interested in the good of the individual”, Logan said, “while the left is interested in the good of all.”  I could have fucked him there and then in the street.

Later, we talked about television, which we considered unforgivably low-brow.  Logan breathed his appreciation of Twin Peaks, however, telling me that I would love the music, the intimacy and the broken fourth wall.  I rushed to order the DVDs as soon as I got home.  The interaction between the characters felt staged and surreal, but in Lynch’s stylised ambiance it was believable, as though the unreal was more real than the real.  A hyperreal, Baudrillardian simulation of reality, the cinematography and style winked and grinned at me, like a perfectly made up face with a gaping, dripping wound glaring from the lower lip.  Jarring like the sight of blood on an image of performed beauty, it was impossible to turn away from.

Logan was surprised when I told him I didn’t have a television.  “It’s by choice”, I said.  “But how do you keep up with current affairs?” he asked.  “That’s what Twitter is for.”  And maybe social media has taken television’s place as the dulling apparatus of contemporary times.  In any case, my reflection in the black mirror of his empty television screen while bent over his single bed looked more engaged and present than when in front of screen lit with dancing pixels.

*

I was already drunk when I met the beardy Shinner with the tattooed arms.  We talked about little that I remember, except for the fact that he was in Sinn Féin, and presumably I must also have told him about my own political affiliations.  Both a little the worse for wear, he ended up scrapping with his mate and I ended up kissing someone who called himself a “non-practising Catholic”, thought it would be handiest to baptise his future children to get them into school, and said that politics was boring.  I might have bored him with the reasons why church and state should be separated, but what with all the wine I can’t say for sure.  Either way, the beardy Shinner and I both ended up going home alone.

A week later I found a contact I didn’t recognise in my phone: Cathal.  Confused for a second, and then it came back to me.  He had given me his number.  I was supposed to text him for a drink.  Better late than never, I thought.  He was happy to hear from me, and said he’d be in touch at the weekend.

The following day I crashed my car into the side of a yellow BMW.  Broken neck.  Lying strapped to a board in A&E hours later, I told my sister about Cathal the beardy Shinner.  “You’re going to go out with a Shinner?” she asked, alarmed.  “What are you going to tell Dad?”  “I hadn’t planned telling him anything.  Besides, I’m in no fit state to go anywhere now.”

I didn’t hear from Cathal again.  I saw him at a protest months later.  Too much time had passed to say hello.

*

I met Joanne on a crowded Saturday night.  She was the new friend of my friend, who had met her in the psych hospital.  My friend had gone off her meds and got manic.  She ended up getting arrested for trying to break into the national broadcaster to prove that the government was using radio signals for mind control.  Joanne had borderline personality disorder.  She was a nurse, although not working at the moment.  She was vivacious.  Her huge curves seemed to spill from her dress as she leapt at me to kiss me.  She showed me the little plastic ziplock bag with her meds for the night in it.  There must have been ten tablets.  She was amazed that I could manage my bipolar with just an antipsychotic.  I hadn’t been up or down in over a year, and it helped me sleep, too.  A wonder drug with no side effects, I thought, though I knew that my friend hated it.  She said it messed with her lateral thinking.  I never saw Joanne after that night.

Two years later my friend mentioned her at a party – “Poor Joanne”, with a reflective pause.  “What happened to Joanne?”  My friend looked at me with dismay.  “You don’t know?  Joanne killed herself three months ago.”  I couldn’t distinguish the feeling.  It wasn’t grief – I had hardly known her.  But she was there, she was real, I had touched her skin and kissed her lips, and now only her absence was there.  Only Not Joanne.

*

I wasn’t really attracted to Xavier.  He was nice, and we had good conversations.  He thought Hillary Clinton was a criminal but was voting for her anyway.  I met him two nights in a row just before leaving LA.  It was good to have someone interesting to talk to.  The practice of driving to a bar, drinking, and then driving home would remind me of rural Ireland if this wasn’t such a sprawling metropolis.   Xavier said he was a feminist, but told me that in America the man always pays on a date.  I told him that on the rare occasions when a man insists on paying I get uncomfortable.  What if my date wasn’t a man, anyway?  He paid for dinner, and was impressed when I bought him a drink in return.  It was the least I could do.  He said that he liked this system because “It renders women more independent and puts less pressure on men”.  “It puts less pressure on women”, I told him, “because there’s no unspoken expectation to repay a man with sex.”

We had sex anyway.  I wasn’t that into it, but it had been three months since my ex and two years since anyone else, and I wanted it out of the way.  His flesh was squishy, and his breath smelled.  Just as the thought that America’s culture of body hair removal for all genders was too much floated idly through my mind, he commented “I’ve never had sex with a European girl before.”  Sure enough, I had more hair than him.  I like hair.  Xavier thought it was novel.

*

I sat at the bar waiting for Nico twenty minutes past the time we had agreed to meet.  My phone hopped with frantic texts every few moments, always assuring me that he was two minutes away.  Eventually he appeared, hurrying down the stairs toward me – I recognised the messy black hair and pointed face from his photos – but when he reached the bottom he veered off course and straight into the men’s toilets.  Minutes later, he greeted me.

He was agitated, and drank his pint before I had finished my wine.  Conversation was clipped on his side; gently probing on mine.  Less than half an hour in, Nico lunged at me.  “Lobbed the gob” is the expression my friend used when I described it to her later.  Startled, I froze for a few seconds before extricating myself and returning abruptly to contrived conversation.  He sulked, but kept his hands to himself for at least ten minutes.

He kept bringing the conversation back to an ex-girlfriend of his.  I asked how long the relationship had been over.  Two months, he said.  Gently suggesting that he may not be quite over it yet, I drained my wine glass, making moves to leave.

“You have nothing to worry about”, he insisted, grabbing my arm.

Oh, I thought, that is definitely not what’s going on.  He ordered another round of drinks, as I dropped my coat with dismay.

For hours I tried to remove myself, politeness too deeply embedded in me to stand up and walk away.  I let him rave about filmmaking, LSD and ‘crazy’ girls, all the time searching for my way out.  When I stood up for a bathroom break, he grabbed both my hands.

“I just don’t want to lose you.”

“My coat is still here”, I pointed out with impatience.  “I’m coming back.”

When I returned, Nico took his own bathroom break.  I waited.  And waited.  He was taking his time.  Suddenly it hit me: just leave.  I was out the door and down the street without another thought.

With a dead phone battery and an empty wallet I walked the forty minutes home.  When my phone was revived in the secluded safety of my bedroom, there were six text messages, fourteen missed calls and three voicemails.  They kept coming.  After ignoring many more, I responded asking him to leave me alone.  He said he’d never forgive me.  I blocked his number.

 


Aileen Ferris has published poetry in Route 57, the University of Sheffield’s online literary journal.  A Dublin native, she ran a travel blog at www.frequent-flier.com for some time before turning to writing fiction.  She is also an aerial acrobat and channels her creative energy into that as much as her writing.  This is her first fiction publication.

Image Credit:  Bruno Martins

Frog Bookshop by Bernard O’Rourke

You’re sitting in a corner booth of the bakery café when the man with a face like a dehydrated frog storms in and starts to yell about how, just this morning, this building housed a bookshop.

Do you?          A) respond,

or                     B) ignore him and continue to eat your slice of apple pie, accompanied by black coffee that tastes just a little too bitter because they’ve only recently started doing coffee here and the staff haven’t mastered the art as yet. Clearly none of them have ever worked as a proper barista before. Probably everybody learns to make coffee in Starbucks now. You begin to suppose that what this raving derelict is saying may be really true after all, that as recently as this morning this place was a bookshop. You’ve walked past here but never been inside before, have you ever really noticed, are there any clues to the place, apart from the sign that reads: we now serve coffee––

If you choose A), and stand up to tap him on the shoulder and inform him that this was – for the last 24 hours at least – always a bakery, he’ll get violent and start to throw things, and the police, whom the bakery staff have even now dialled for, will arrive and find him making a scene, leaving them little recourse but to take him on with pepper spray and nightsticks (did you see the way his hand shot into his pocket, they’ll say. Nine out of ten times it’s a concealed weapon, they’ll say).

If however you choose option B), and everyone else does too, and goes right on about their day, the frog-faced man will get a bit discouraged after a while, will become suddenly crippled with an embarrassing clarity – a sudden doubt of what he has been claiming married with an equally sudden realisation of how stupid he looks. His froggy face will fall and he’ll start to look pathetically old as his shrivelling features sag into an acceptance of his own utterly pathetic nature. If you choose option B), there will be no scene here when the police arrive, and who knows what they might do if they lack such an easy target.

Bernard O’Rourke is a writer & filmmaker. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Penny Dreadful, The Tangerine, The IncubatorQueen Mob’s Teahouse, The Honest UlstermanTheEEELThe Bohemyth, and Wordlegs. In 2017, his short film Impression, Canal was shortlisted for the Ó Bhéal Poetry Film Prize at the IndieCork Film Festival. His Twitter account is @guyserious. He lives in Dublin.


Image Credit:  Nafinia Putra

Audio Guide by Ronan Hession

“Are you sure you’ll be ok?”

“I’m fine. Honestly.  My folks are coming over later so I won’t be on my own.  Go on. You’ll be late.”

I left Angela to rest up, her body still getting used to itself after the miscarriage.  Everything had changed so quickly.  Last week, we had been living a life of plans, talking  about the arrival of a baby who was in fact already in our bed, inside of Angela; a little nineteen-week-old grapefruit.  But what can you say when there’s no heartbeat?   When the scan shows indecipherable black and grey shading and the baby is still there but without that pulsing, characteristic pattern that is supposed to last a lifetime?  I was full of questions, trying to talk my way out of things, but Angela just settled into a profound, personal realisation that was inaccessible to me.  That deep wisdom of the body once it knows, truly knows, that everything has changed.

As we sat at home, waiting for the tablets to work, I texted my sister: “We’ve lost the baby.  Can you tell people?”  We sat through the unreality of trying to find something decent on TV, of having run out of bread, of drying some spare pyjamas for Angela in case she needed to go back into hospital, which she did, for a D&C later that day.  I phoned my boss and said that I had a vomiting bug and would be out for a couple of days, instinctively knowing not to tell the truth.  The following days were filled with the practicalities of medicine, and that closeness you find between two people who have been through a lot together.

The world seemed stubbornly normal as I made my way back in to work. It was autumn and Dublin looked well; the leaves turning the colour of Georgian bricks.

“Here he is! The only man to catch morning sickness when his wife is pregnant – how’s your bump Ger?”

“Hi folks.  Thanks for your sympathy. Don’t come too close, I’m not sure if I’m entirely over it.”

“So brave.  What a pro.  Here he is back after only three days in his Superman pyjamas.”

The first morning at the office filled itself with routine: looking through the end-quarter numbers before they were sent to the West Coast; querying payments made while I was out; clearing annual leave for the girl who worked for me.  Little pieces of normality that I operated by remote control from inside my grief.

At lunchtime, I passed on an invite to go for a curry with the others, answering them with a pantomime pat of my supposedly recovering stomach.  Once the office quietened down, I logged out and left for a walk.  Outside, the bockety streets were full of that midday busyness: people texting their lunch dates to say that they were running late, something had come up; charity fund raisers flirting for Africa; and Italian students in puff jackets walking five abreast, full of continental obliviousness.

I stopped outside the National Gallery.  For months it had been barricaded by hoardings during its renovation, but now, like me, it was slowly beginning to engage with the world again.  It appealed to me as a safe place where a person could go and look like they were doing something, even if they were not really taking anything in.

The lobby was busy with tour groups and people with bags being told that they would need to use the cloakroom.  The Perspex donation box stood awkwardly, half full with unfamiliar currencies. I decided to rent a recorded audio guide to insulate myself from the chatter and close off my interior world.  I put the old-style foam-covered headphones over my ears and clipped the device onto my belt.  It was still set to German so I had to fiddle around and find the English setting, but it played automatically once the language was selected.

“The National Gallery first opened in 1922, after the Parliament building had been bombed, leading to a reorganisation of city centre properties under the control of the State . . .”

The crowds were all drawn to the big names on show at the visiting exhibition of Art from the Low Countries, so the rooms of lesser known Irish art were pretty quiet – mostly rural scenes and large landscapes.  The audio guide explained that Irish landscape paintings typically devoted an unusually large amount of space to the sky: the mercurial weather providing the variety and drama that painters loved.

“Number 41.  This painting depicts working men stopping for lunch.  Their dark skin and weathered clothes indicate that they may have been day labourers, or Journée men . . .”

Standing still, my arms hung loose and my body felt torpid.  I needed some rest, but I also knew that I needed to begin the process of rejoining the world.  Any more time in that house and I would have become too sad.

“ . . . Notice how the woman to the rear of the painting, wielding the soup ladle, stares straight at the viewer.”  

-She looks sad.  On her own among all those men.

“That’s because she is sad.  She’s wearing a black scarf over her head, which indicates a family bereavement.”

-Is one of the men her husband?

“Unlikely.  Perhaps her husband has died and her sadness is because she must work among other men in his absence.”

-That’s a powerful interpretation.

“What do you think?”

-I think she might just be exhausted to the point of sadness.

“No. 59.  This portrait depicts the Earl of Longford, James Hassekemp, with his hunting dogs.  The landscape in the background alludes to his Dutch protestant heritage and the style of the Dutch masters . . .”

-Is he famous?

“Only in the sense that he was rich in the nineteenth century and so his history is recorded and his family name remains in the area.”

-Is that the only reason his picture is here?

“Do you feel drawn to him?”

-I don’t know.  I’m not sure.  I think I like the painting though.

“It’s well executed, but somewhat stiff.  Why do you like it?”

-It’s just so big.  He looks so tall.

“Why is that important?”

-It makes him look substantial.  Unaffected by things.

“Number 73 is titled ‘Woman with a Guitar and Tears’.  This is by Irish painter Lily Oster, who travelled and studied throughout Europe and who was married to the famous sculptor, Daniel Bard.”

-Why tell me who her husband was?

“He is very famous, and the better known.”

-He always will be if you keep describing her like that.

“It’s a Cubist painting. Do you know what that is?”

-I think so. I mean, I know it’s modern art and it’s made up of shapes and different perspectives and all that.   I wouldn’t be able to tell it from other schools of abstract art, but I know as much as I need to.

“How does the painting affect you?”

-It’s ok.  Only ok.  On a different day I might feel engaged intellectually, but the way I am today it just sort of washes over me.

“Does the fact that she is crying mean anything to you?”

-I suppose it’s meant to mean something, but to me it just looks, I don’t know.  Just a painting.  I’m not getting anything from it.

“Some say she looks like a sad Mona Lisa.”

-Let’s move on.
“The next one is number 80. We can skip this if you want.”

-It’s ok.

“I thought it might upset you.”

-Why?

“Because of your baby.”

-My little grapefruit.

“We don’t have to do this one if you don’t want to.”

-Tell me about the painting.

“It’s by Ulick Grey.  It’s called the ‘Child’s Wake’.  It was his last painting and was unfinished at his death.  The child and the adult figures were done by Grey, but the details of the room had to be completed by one of his students.  This is the first time it has been shown here.”

-I haven’t seen it before.

“Grey mostly painted landscapes.   Even though it’s not particularly well executed, the choice of subject is original and profound, which makes it arresting.”

-I see what you mean. The child’s face is wrong though, isn’t it?

“How so?”

-It looks like it’s sleeping, rather than dead.  It’s too peaceful.

“How should it look?”

-I don’t know. But not too peaceful.

“What about the mother figure?”

-She’s not difficult to do.  Everyone knows what a heartbroken mother looks like.

“And the father?”

-He’s not looking at the child.

“Why do you think that is?”

-I think I know.

“Go on.”

-At some stage he will have to choose the exact moment to pull the blanket over the child’s face.

“Should we move on?”

-I have to go back.

“Can’t you stay?  There are two more rooms on this floor.”

-I can’t.  I wish I could bring you with me.

“They won’t let you.”

-What would happen?

“I don’t know.  I don’t know how things work from your side.”

-I’ll just bring you back.  I suppose I have no way of knowing if I’ll get you the next time I come here.

“I guess not.”

I returned the audio guide at the counter, where a woman with a steel grey bob hung it among the others, without breaking off the instructive conversation she was having with some tourists.  It was hard to see exactly where she had hung it or to tell which one I had given her.

Stepping outside into the street again, my ears felt the cold.  Things seemed calmer now, with a few people here and there, making their way with an easy randomness.  A school tour passed by, the children each holding hands with the kids in front and behind them, looking like a string of cut-out paper dolls.

I was in no mood to go back: not yet ready to accept that part of returning to normal was getting back to doing the things that I didn’t want to do.  I sent two texts:

“Hi love.  Am taking a half day.  See you in an hour xx G.”

And to my boss:

“We lost the baby.  Can you tell people?”


Ronan Hession is an emerging writer based Dublin – his work has previously appeared in The Honest Ulsterman. As Mumblin’ Deaf Ro, he has released three albums of storytelling songs. His third album Dictionary Crimes was was nominated for the Choice Music Prize.


Image Source:  Igor Miske

LACES by Iseult Deane

In the corridor beside the gantries, she hid with her hands in Oliver’s shoes. She leaned right down, till her cheek was on the carpet, feeling the spread of her fingers where his toes would be.

Downstairs, on stage, the performance was coming to the end of Act I. She sighed, sat back up, and put the shoes back under where the rest of his Act II costume was hanging. She liked to stay here during the show, officially as costume designer ready for quick changes. In this small theatre building they were renting, nothing was soundproofed. No one wanted it to be their footsteps or their conversation that threw off a whole performance. The actor’s voices created a silence that was like a spell; complete and unbreakable. For this, she thought anyway, Oliver’s voice was the most effective because he made it softer. She felt like he understood the potential of the building, forced it to breath in time with him by drawing back just a little. Under this spell, no one could ask her what she was doing with shoes on her hands; no one was supposed to walk this way at all. In this silence, her secret, her adoration, breathed with the building, with Oliver.

She followed his lines on her script:

Malachy: I want you with me Niamh! When you go, I want you with me.

Niamh: But where can we go? What’ll we do when we get there?

Malachy: We’ll go as far as we can. I want to beat those fucking rain clouds Niamh. I can’t take more cold! If we try to leave now, it’ll be hours before anyone notices. We can disappear, and no one will even know it. Maybe no one will even mind, in the end Niamh.

She loved how Oliver said “Niamh”, with two syllables, like Nee-Uv.

She didn’t, though, like the play all that much. It was sentimental and new, and the director was a fretful angry man; David. He came to every rehearsal in the same denim jacket and sat there with his laptop out, covered in the stickers you get from Amnesty International when you sign a petition in the street. She’d seen him, peering over that screen, leering at Molly. Molly was playing Niamh, and Niamh seemed some kind of fantasy for him, following Malachy all the way around the world with her dark hair and her sweet, quick heart only to die on a tiny boat in the night in an unfamiliar sea. David screamed and shouted and ran things over by an hour, or cut them short when everyone had got up at 7am. She hated him for his cruelty, but more for what he had written into life. It was only the second night, and already rumours about Molly and Oliver were falling off the stage and into the real world.

She waited until she heard the murmur of the crowd before standing up and tucking her script away back into her bag. Molly was the first up the stairs from backstage at the bottom of the corridor.

“How’s it going?”

“Alright I think, bit low energy maybe”, Molly replied, taking the tights she was holding out to her and starting to pull them on under her skirt.

“It sounded good from here anyway”. She held out the rest of the costume.

“Thanks a million Laura” Molly said, and turned towards the dressing room. Laura watched her go for a moment. Molly was tying her hair up; she hoped she hadn’t been on stage this whole time with that bobbin on her wrist.

“Could you give me a hand with this?” Oliver. Laura had made him a shirt for Act II, but had put the fastening very high up on the neck by mistake, so that it was hard to do up yourself. She nodded.

He was taller than her, and now she was eye level with his chin, feeling his breath on her hands. Laura felt lately like there was a flood that followed her, that she was only ever just about ahead of. Here, she felt it rise, coming to rest just under her nose as she did the fastening. He lifted his chin to give her space, and she wanted to throw her arms around his neck and lift herself up, away from the flood, up to his height where it couldn’t get her. She took a small, extra second, and stood back from him. The water sank a little.

“There” she smiled.

“Thanks!” he said, and bounced away down the corridor. The water drained down the stairs after him. She smiled to herself that he didn’t feel the need to check his costume in the mirror.

She heard a shout for their five-minute call, and watched the rest of the cast traipse past her, back downstairs. The lights went darker, and she sat back down and took her script out again.

There was never much of a routine before the play started, always a lost pair of shoes, or a new tantrum from David. No one really noticed then, except Laura, how late Oliver was on the fourth night. Ten minutes until open, her breaths were coming shallow with worry, and David stormed into the corridor. He seemed not to notice Laura, but she felt like he knew someone was watching. He was performative, like an angry person in a film, pacing around on his phone

“Fucking nothing!” he screamed, and kicked the piping running along the wall. “Molly!”

Molly came out to the corridor then. Laura liked Molly. They had been in the same class at college. They always commented nice things on each other’s pictures on instagram. Once they had run into each other leaving the library and gone for a drink and Molly had cried about her sick cat to her.

“I can’t get through to Oliver, have you heard from him?”

Molly shook her head.

“If he doesn’t show up in the next like two fucking minutes then I’m gonna do his part tonight. Just to give you a heads up”.

Laura saw real fear cross Molly’s face at the thought of acting across from David, of acting in love with him.

David could no more do this to Oliver than to Molly. He was too cruel to stand where he stands, say his words in his clothes.

She gathered Oliver’s costume up, waited until the cast came out and started downstairs, before slipping into the middle of them, four pins in her mouth so that she’d look like she had a task to do. Downstairs, she got changed in the dark backstage, rolling up the legs of the trousers, pulling the shoelaces as tight as she could, pinning the shirt at the back to make it fit better. The fire announcement began as she stuffed her hair into his hat, patting around the edges for strays. She could hear David stomping around upstairs, and hoped that he’d still care enough about the play to stop making noise soon.

She waited for Oliver’s, or Malachy’s, first scene, running over his lines in her head. She knew them perfectly. She had studied them like they were sacred the past few days, had come to far more rehearsals than she really needed to hear Oliver say them. Her hands shook with worry, with the burden of filling his place, with disgust at the thought of David standing in these shoes.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned around. David was there, with the rest of the cast peering at her from behind him. Without waiting for even a gesture from him, she turned and slipped on stage, too early for her scene, and paced at the back. As she became Malachy , her anxiety dissipated. She was safe here, in Oliver’s place, holding something precious for him.

The performance went completely smoothly. They heard from Oliver at the interval; he had been knocked off his bike and had a concussion and a broken ankle. He was safe, and she imagined Molly texting him later about what had happened, and him seeing her name and imagining her in his clothes.

Oliver couldn’t come in the next day. When Laura arrived, Molly and David were screaming at each other. She waited in the corridor, with his costume clutched to her chest. She heard a door slam and footsteps and Molly rushed into the corridor. She said that David had left, that we were to run the show ourselves tonight.

“Thank you so much Laura”. They hugged, the bundled costume caught between them.

The same thing happened the next few nights, until David seemed to give up on the whole production. He stopped even watching, spending the whole show smoking on the balcony and then only going downstairs at the very end to collect his praises and his ticket takings. The cast was grateful to her for creating such a distance between them and David. Every night they flocked around her, chatting, asking for help with their hair, laughing with her. She thought all the time of Oliver, wondered what he was hearing about what was going on, if he was curious enough to come watch, feeling that same flood rising and falling around her.

She still changed backstage in the dark for every show. She preferred it to be dark; it made it easier to forget herself, to inhabit Oliver. On stage, she tried to copy everything, his accent, his gait, squinting slightly to change the shape of her eyes, and always looking out, past the yellow lights, to where he might be in the audience. As she walked home and as she fell asleep every night she thought of nothing but his eyes on her.

On the thirteenth night, the second last, she changed as usual in the dark. As she was tightening the lace on her shoe, it snapped off in her hand. She had pulled too hard and it was only cheap and elastic. The break pinched her skin a little. She tested the shoe; it was very loose, much too big for her. She tucked the raw end of the lace inside and stood up as the fire announcement came on.

As she stepped out, gripping the inside of the shoe with her toes, she went closer to the edge of the stage than usual, so she could see better beyond the lights. The audience was small tonight; he was not there. The weeks’ worth of hoping and getting nowhere weighed heavy on her; she was tired. It was her line but she waited, let the silence grow. She walked out of step with Oliver’s blocking, and took her hat off, feeling her hair fall down around her shoulders. She didn’t pay much attention as the scenes passed her by, always looking outwards, wide-eyed.

She turned, at last, to Molly:

Malachy: I want you with me Niamh! When I go, I want you with me.

She stepped forward, and left her loose shoe behind. She used her foot to loosen the other one.

Niamh: I can’t leave here, what will I do? Where will we go?

As she spoke, Laura untucked and unbuttoned her shirt. She faced forwards at centre stage. Molly was backing away, until she was outside the line of the lights, almost off stage.

Malachy: As far as we can. I want to beat those fucking rain clouds Niamh.

Laura felt herself begin to shout. The rest of her clothes began to come away. They were not hers and they didn’t fit her. They slipped off without her trying.

I cannot take more of the cold. If we try to leave now, it’ll be hours before anyone notices.

Laura stood on stage naked, the trail of the costume behind her, staring

straight into the yellow lights above her.

We can disappear and no one will even know it! Maybe no one will even mind, in the end.


Iseult Deane is 20 years old and a third year English and Philosophy student at Trinity College Dublin. She has lived her whole life in Dublin. She works in a cinema at the moment but likes theatre a lot more and would like to be a costume designer. 

Image Credit: Peter Hershey

The Swallow by Anna Foley

He examined the plant as the sun set over the skyline. A day out of the glasshouse had not improved the colour of the tomatoes as hoped, but the vines had wilted. The rusty screech of the back-door hinge announced her arrival to this quiet space at the back of the terraced house.

“I must oil that later. Are you at your flowers?”

“I don’t do flowers, only edible stuff,” he barked. “Organic. It’ll be good for you.”

She was peering into the ramshackle glasshouse, imbibing the chlorophyll. He watched, willing her not to touch anything. A flicker of movement at the back-bedroom window next door caught his eye. Someone had noticed him raise his voice to her, again. Dusk was looming.

“You’ve a lovely crop of gherkins lovey,” she said. Her voice was tinny since that last surgery.

“Cucumbers,” he snapped.

“Hah?”

“They’re not gherkins ‘til you bloody pickle um, Mam. Cucumbers”

She sighed and stood before him, smiling. He wondered why she persisted with these inane conversations. Tensing, he shifted his gaze to the window next door again. No movement to be seen. When he glanced at his mother again, she had focussed her attention on his barrel of collected rainwater.

“Oh Jesus,” she said.

“What?”

“There’s a dead bird in there. Don’t look now love.”

He edged toward her and eyed the oily sheen of the water, interrupted by the greasy feathers of a swallow.

“He won’t get back to Africa now anyway,” she said, fishing it out with her right hand.

“God, Mam! There’s germs an all sorts. You have to be careful of bugs.”

“Don’t you worry, pet, I’ll get rid of it.”

She lifted the lid of the steel bin in the corner and replaced it with a clang, wiping her hand on her apron afterwards. He imagined bacteria flourishing all over it, creeping all over the eroded Kiss The Cook embellishment. The pathogens would garnish whatever awful meal she was preparing indoors too. Endotoxin stew.

She paused then, hovering along the fencing that separated his garden from that crowd next door. The shrieks of seemingly happy children permeated the air of the estate on either side of him. Glancing at his mother he was struck by how thin she seemed. Though the evening was fine, and the coral sky beautiful in its way, this close-proximity living was not something a true country woman like her would ever get used to. The August wind picked up, whipping the scant remains of her hair into her eyes and she jumped. She would need a scarf for her head soon, or a wig, he thought.

“Must go back to the dinner love, come in after me now won’t you.”

He grunted.

When he was sure he had heard her close out the back door, he entered the glasshouse, and tore down the last of the nests.


Anna Foley lives in her native East Cork. She completed an MA in Creative Writing in UCC in 2016. She has had several pieces published in various journals including The Lonely Crowd, The Incubator, The Quarryman and the Honest Ulsterman.

Image credit:  Markus Spiske